“Switch” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Change is hard, but big changes can happen.

“Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” (2010) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath shows us how we can make changes in our lives by outsmarting ourselves. The central idea is that “Big changes can start with very small steps. Small changes tend to snowball,” (page 255). Practical, attention-grabbing, and interesting, the book is filled with studies, real-world examples, and practice clinics.

“Switch” builds on Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis,” which says that our emotional side of our mind is the Elephant and our rational side is its Rider. The Elephant has energy, but needs motivation; the Rider is a visionary, but needs direction. And we can increase the odds of a successful change by changing our environment – the places where we work, the order we do things, even the people around us.

1. Direct the Rider: Our rational side is often overwhelmed by details and possibilities. So we need to find the bright spots – the things that are already working; create a plan so we don’t have to make small decisions; and have a specific, worthwhile goal.

For example: to exercise more, we could start by thinking of all the ways we already exercise, no matter how small, and find ways to do a little more – park a little further from the front door, use the stairs instead of the elevator.

2. Motivate the Elephant: Our Rider may want to change, but our Elephant needs convincing. We need to connect to a feeling – such as showing the problem in a way that we can see or touch; break down a big change into smaller steps; and create an identity so that the people around you support the change.

For example: to become debt-free, we might start by paying off the smallest debts first, regardless of the interest rates – because it gives our Elephants an easy victory that helps us keep the change going.

3. Shape the Path: Our environment can shape our behavior, but we can shape our environment to change our behavior. We can tweak things, like rearranging a room or simplifying a form; we can build habits, like setting “action triggers” and using checklists; and we can rally the herd, by bringing hanging out with people who want to change.

For example: to work more efficiently, we might turn off the ‘new email’ alerts or work on a computer without Internet access at all; and have meetings in which everyone is required to stand up, relying on the group’s body language to signal when someone is getting off-topic.

There’s more information and advice at their website, www.switchthebook.com/resources.

What will you change today?

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